The Colorado Health Foundation recently awarded Eagle County Health and Human Services a grant to expand opportunities for residents to apply for Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) public health insurance programs.
Public computer stations that have access to the Colorado state on-line system, called PEAK - which stands for Program Eligibility Application Kit - have been set up.
The PEAK computers are at eight locations - the Salvation Army building in Avon, Riverview Apartments in Avon, Eagle Care Medical Clinic in Edwards, Avon Elementary School, June Creek Elementary, Gypsum Elementary, Gypsum Creek Middle School and Basalt Elementary Health Clinic. The Health and Human Services Offices in Avon, Eagle, El Jebel and Aspen each have a computer station as well.
"The main purpose is to increase enrollment in the public health programs of Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus (also called CHP+) in Eagle and Pitkin Counties," said Rachael Messerich, who is leading the project for Eagle County HHS.
The PEAK program can be accessed on any computer that has Internet access. The website is www.Colorado.gov/PEAK.
The website helps people with four things. It helps people find out if they are eligible, report changes and track which benefits they are receiving and when those need to be renewed.
"The eligibility screening tool will help you find out if you may qualify for medical coverage, food and cash assistance programs," Messerich said. "The screening usually takes around 10 to 15 minutes. I always encourage people to do the screening first. If the results of your screening tell you that you will probably not qualify for something, you would just apply for the programs you might qualify for."
Messerich said some people get confused between Medicare and Medicaid, and she explained the difference.
"Medicaid is a federal program for low-income, financially needy people, set up by the federal government and administered differently in each state. Whereas Medicare was created to deal with the high medical costs that older citizens face," she said. "Eligibility for Medicare is not tied to individual need. Rather, it is an entitlement program; you are entitled to it because you or your spouse paid for it through Social Security taxes. The way I distinguish them is Medicare, helps care for the elderly and Medicaid, helps aid the needy."
Messerich said getting our eligible population enrolled in medical assistance is very important because it affects the community's health.
"For example, healthy children attend school regularly, learn and perform at a higher level," she said. "The same goes for our working community. Also, uninsured patients tend to delay seeking care, use less preventative services, experience more adverse health outcomes and are four times likely to require hospitalizations and emergency hospital care that could be avoidable with preventative services."
A large number of adults and children are currently eligible but are not enrolled. For now, the children of Eagle County are the focus of the PEAK effort.
"According to the data received by the Colorado Health Institute, in 2009 there were 365 kids eligible for public health insurance but not enrolled, compared to 797 kids in 2010," Messerich said. "That's 432 kids more in 2010 than 2009. I can only imagine the possible increases for 2011 and 2012 since we don't have the exact numbers yet."
PEAK computer stations are in schools and community-based organizations because research shows that people often prefer to apply for public programs such as Medicaid at community-based organizations as opposed to Medicaid offices, Messerich said.
"Accessibility to PEAK computer stations and to staff members that are trained to assist is very important to increasing our enrollment numbers," she said.
Federal Poverty Guidelines have changed so it's worth checking to see if you qualify, Messerich said.
"Your child may be able to get Public Health Insurance coverage through Child Health Plan Plus or your entire family may qualify for Family Medicaid," she said. "I would encourage families that are finding it difficult to make ends meet and can't find the extra money for health insurance to go into Colorado PEAK and complete the screening. It never hurts to check."